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There are many examples of animal helpers in healthcare. Examples range from assistance dogs to even modern day leeches that provide anti-coagulation to surgical wounds and maggots used to debride necrotic tissue. Now, one major university medical center and research organization has pioneered the use of ticks to take the place of hospital phlebotomists.

ticks as phlebotomist
“That should be enough for a CBC”

Ticks are natural blood suckers and can hold more than mosquitoes making them perfect for the task of drawing blood on hospitalized patients. North Carolina Piedmont University (NCPU) researchers have succeeded in breeding a new and specialized tick for the sole purpose of drawing blood for lab tests. These tiny arachnids are domesticated and are virtually free from diseases such as Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. They are aptly named Phleboticks.

Advantages of employing Phleboticks are myriad. NCPU has been able to save thousands on the salaries of the now obsolete human phlebotomist. Patients have overwhelmingly supported the use of Phleboticks because as opposed to a painful needle stick, the little tick bites are completely painless allowing blood to be drawn with no discomfort or danger of accidental needle sticks. One patient, Jenny Lombard states “I never even knew the little blood sucker had come and gone. It was completely painless.” Other patients echo Jenny’s satisfaction.

The “process is simple” states Bobby Rezenczk, lab manager at NCPU hospital. The specially bred ticks are trained in a caring and nurturing environment making them quite people friendly. “These little suckers aren’t your average dog ticks” Rezenczk goes on to say. They are trained to be sensitive to patients’ needs and body types thereby selecting the most succulent and painless locations from which to bite.

Before they are released in the room, each tick is barcoded with the patient’s ID and MR numbers so when they return to the lab with their juicy engorged cargo, there are no mistakes. Like homing pigeons taught to return to their nests, phleboticks are similarly taught to return to the lab. In cases where the patient’s room is too far for the phlebotick to walk on his or her own, they simply hitch a ride on someone heading in that direction. Upon reaching the lab, their barcodes are read and they deposit their precious sanguineous cargo into the appropriate lab analyzer.

All indications are that the phleboticks are actually enjoying this new and innovative role they play in the service of patients and the hospital revenue cycle as they admittedly do keep just a small quantity of blood for personal consumption. NCPU researchers are now investigating the possible use of ticks for surgery. Scientists posit that anesthesia as we know it may be eliminated with the use of ticks that cause temporary tick paralysis. Research is ongoing.

Josie Rose RN
Josie Rose RN has been a practicing nurse and healthcare investigative reporter for decades. She is intimately familiar with every aspect of the business of healthcare. Nurse Rose is your trusted source for medical truth and justice. If you are a physician, healthcare administrator, or supervisor, and engage in questionable activities, Nurse Rose will sniff you out and hunt you down like Florence Nightingale’s biting dog “Cap” to expose the truth.